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Tank half-empty for crop-based biofuels

‘Second-generation’ bioethanol has emerged stronger after the EU capped fuels produced from food crops and banned those made from palm oil. Market reactions were mixed.

Taking sides in a long-running debate about whether crops turned into biofuels should be used to make food instead, the European Parliament last week capped cropped-based biofuels at 2017 levels and 7 percent of all transport fuels by 2030.

Lawmakers’ strongest measure, however, was to remove fuels made from palm oil from the list of biofuels that can count towards the renewables target in 2021. To make up for the shortfall, they encouraged for more research to develop “second-generation” or “advanced” biofuels, such as those produced from waste and recycled carbon.

The Parliament decided on a 12 percent target for renewables in transport, including 10 percent earmarked for advanced biofuels.

“We have dealt an important blow to the big-agri lobby today. With a freeze at current national levels, the market will get a clear signal that it should move away from food-based crops,” said Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP and rapporteur for the report in the Parliament’s environment committee.

Unhappy medium?

Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at advocacy group Transport & Environment, described the move as a “compromise” that “redirects investments into the fuels of the future and eliminates palm oil biodiesel, the highest emitting biofuel.”

“The vote sends a clear message to the biofuels industry that growth can only come from sustainable advanced fuels such as waste-based biofuels, not from food crops.”

Buffet lamented, however, that the vote does not do more to phase out crop-based biofuels, instead granting them support until 2030. She also regretted the decision to expand the list of biofuels qualifying as “second-generation.”

“We urge the European Commission and EU governments to tighten the definition and the list of advanced biofuels so as to only promote truly sustainable biofuels and avoid the same mistakes of the past,” she said.

Receding target?

Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary general of ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, also endorsed part of the reform.

“Europeans deserve a climate policy that lives up to the promises made by politicians. The Parliament has sent a message that not all biofuels are created equal by focusing on getting rid of those that drive deforestation like palm oil.”

Unsurprisingly, he was less in tune with the decision to cap crop-based ethanol. The Parliament’s amendments, he said, “risk making it harder for EU member states to realistically boost renewables in transport.”

Draft measures approved by lawmakers include a commitment for renewable energy to account for at least 35 percent of the EU’s energy use by 2030.